A Florida amusement park has announced it will tear down one of its newest rides after a St. Louis teen tragically slipped out of it in March 2022. The decision to disassemble the attraction comes after a tsunami of public outcry, asking for the ride’s owners and managers of the tourist destination to turn the site into a memorial to the young boy.
On Thursday, Oct. 6, the CEO of Orlando Slingshot, Ritchie Armstrong, shared via a statement his company’s decision to remove the Orlando FreeFall ride from the ICON Park out of respect for Tyre Sampson, a 14-year-old boy who fell to his death on March 24, 2022, after sliding out of the ride’s safety harness, WAGA-TV FOX5 reports.
Two months after his death, the boy’s parents and their supporters filed a petition to have the site turned into a memorial. The petition was signed by thousands of people who desired to create a tribute in the location, hoping to hallow the ground where the teen lost his life. While plans for a memorial are not set, conversations regarding demolishing the ride are in motion.
“We are devastated by Tyre’s death. We have listened to the wishes of Tyre’s family and the community and have made the decision to take down the FreeFall,” Armstrong said in a statement. “In addition, Orlando Slingshot will honor Tyre and his legacy in the classroom and on the football field by creating a scholarship in his name.”
ICON Park, the destination that housed the ride, saluted the move, saying in a statement, “Tyre’s death is a tragedy that we will never forget. As the landlord, ICON Park welcomes and appreciates Orlando Slingshot’s decision to take down the ride.”
No timeline has been provided for when the demolition will begin. Orlando SlingShot said it was waiting for all parties connected to the accident and state regulatory agencies to give them the final approval. Because the accident is also still under investigation and a lawsuit from the family is pending trial next year, a clear date for the ride to be torn down is up in the air.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Shelby Scarpa, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said Orlando Slingshot will not be able to take down the ride until her agency completes its investigation.
Scarpa shared her agency is in communication with Orlando SlingShot and will be working together for a resolution to this complicated case.
The 430-foot ride, which was taller than the Statue of Liberty and promoted as the world’s tallest drop tower, has been shut down since the accident.
An operator allowed Sampson to get on the ride despite being almost 100 pounds over the ride’s weight limit. The person manually adjusted the seat and restraint opening to double the regulated standard as outlined in the ride’s operation manual. As a result, the eighth grader slipped through the ride and crashed to his premature death.
Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried conducted an investigation and exposed the violation of the operations protocol, but also noted the ride itself did not experience a mechanical or electrical malfunction, and other factors were at play that contributed to Sampson’s death.
Sampson’s mother was reportedly too emotional to speak to the press after the announcement was made. However, Nekia Dodd’s attorney Michael Haggard gave remarks in her stead.
“With the tremendous grief that she’s enduring every day, it’s some measure of closure knowing that that will never happen again with another child and that her son’s legacy will be that,” the lawyer said, according to WESH.
Haggard also said, “[Knowing] it will never operate again is a little bit comforting for her amid her grief.”
Sampson’s father, Yarnell Sampson, and his attorney Ben Crump feel that their efforts to get the owners to tear it down have not been in vain.
Crump and his co-counsel Bob Hilliard said in a statement, “[Sampson] has been advocating for this since the day Tyre fell to his death.”
“The Orlando Free Fall ride never should have been permitted to operate under those faulty conditions,” the statement continued. “Theme parks, their parent companies, and regulatory agencies must do better to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening to any other family.”
“How would you feel? You send your kid to vacation; they’re going to have fun. Next thing you know, they don’t come home,” Yarnell said. “This is a reminder. It needs to come down. It needs a permanent memorial.”
A physical memorial was not announced, but a local politician wants to make sure she memorializes the scholar-athlete with legislation that is modeled to prevent future accidents in the tourist-centric state.
Rep. Geraldine Thompson said, “It was out of the ordinary that the signs in regard to height and weight requirements were not posted so that Tyre could make his own decision. His life was taken during spring break because of the things that happened here that were out of the ordinary, but we’re going to correct that with the Tyre Sampson law that is going to be filed on the very first day of the legislative session, and I will be the author of the Tyre Sampson bill.”